A classical duet

Nov 1, 2000 at 12:00 am

Andrea Eis brings ancient myths and the world we live in together in her photographs. She does this out of a sense that the passions expressed by human forms are always “up-to-date,” wherever and however they appear.

If she goes to the Louvre in Paris to see and photograph ancient Greek sculpture, she also sees the persistence, the continuance of those gestures and passions in the people around her. A headless, armless torso retains its humanity, its ability to speak to us, whether it stands in a vast museum gallery or makes a cameo appearance in a film by Jean-Luc Godard (Contempt) or Alain Resnais (Last Year at Marienbad). Eis shares with those French New Wave directors a confidence that the experience of the ancient world translates directly into the (post)modern scene, although not without a great deal being changed (or even lost) in the process.

This feeling of loss also grows in the heart of desire, just as the knowledge of our mortality shadows us, step by step, through every joyous, tender, nostalgic and tragic moment of our lives. Eis reflects on this eternally bittersweet duality even in the way she chooses to hang her photographs — pairing them in a kind of dialogue and often underscoring them with language.

In “Eurydice Rising” (above), the figures act out a scene in a silent ballet of forms, moving toward each other out of longing and accompanied by the silent music of the words: from “doubting” to “knowing,” from “he” to “her,” from “she” to “chance.” Eis seems to suggest that there’s no such thing as a simple experience of desire, no simple emotion when it comes to the precious, precarious feelings we have for another.

In 1993, Eis published Ancient Finds, a book of her photographs which contrasted shots of real people with details of ancient sculptures from the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts. She made use of the layout to pair photographs on facing pages and charge them with both modern and mythological language concerning choices, impasses, doubts and quandaries.

George Tysh is the Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at [email protected]